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What can we learn from the Dayton’s Monkey?

Thursday, June 14, 2018
Posted by
Sarah Imholte

The Dayton's Monkey

This past spring, construction personnel who were working on the renovation of the former Dayton’s department store in downtown Minneapolis made a surprising discovery in the ductwork: a naturally mummified monkey. News of the discovery made headlines and captured the attention of people around the country.

Varying theories emerged about the origin of the monkey. Some speculated that it had escaped from a pet store located in the building and had become disoriented. (Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was common for pet stores to sell monkeys and other exotic species as pets. Today, the practice of buying a selling these kinds of animals is much more closely regulated than it once was.)

Others remembered back to the 1960s, when the famous Dayton’s 8th Floor Auditorium hosted a rainforest display that featured tropical plant life and animals like monkeys and birds. Perhaps, they ventured, the monkey escaped from that display – maybe it was curious, or maybe it was trying to get away from another species in the enclosure – and got lost in the ductwork.  

Other possible origin stories exist, too, but none have been confirmed. The specimen is on a temporary loan to the Science Museum, and based on the amount of information that accompanied it, we’ll probably never know for sure what happened.

“A specimen is only as valuable as the information that comes with it,” says Laurie Fink, vice president of Science at the Science Museum of Minnesota. “We don’t have a lot of data about this monkey, so that makes it difficult for us to tell its story.”

Since we don’t know exactly where it came from, how old it might be, or how it came to be trapped in the inner workings of the building, the specimen is not very scientifically valuable. We are, however, a noted research institution with a large collection of biological specimens. We have the expertise and capabilities to care for the specimen properly, and we saw an opportunity to provide some scientific and historical context to people who had been following its story.

Our conservation and exhibits teams worked together over the past few weeks to research and prepare the specimen for display. Beginning Thursday, June 14, people who have followed the monkey’s mysterious story will have the chance to see it up close at a display in the Science Museum’s lobby.

You can find the Dayton’s Monkey in a display case near the entrance to the Computer Education Center through Monday September 3. And if you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to care for and study a biological collection that is rich with diversity and features lots of Minnesota mammals and birds, join us for our Behind the Scenes Open House on Friday, July 13!

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